It took decades for motorcycling to overcome the negative perception of the lifestyle that was prevalent in the 1950s. So much of that perception was unfairly created in entertainment and the media. Movies that portrayed motorcyclists as roving gangs of thugs and staged magazine photographs of drunken, antisocial bikers put a lasting, negative patina on the activity that we love and share.
Now, decades later, we are seeing a new wave of damage being done to the public view of our sport. However, this time the media that is spreading the perception is of the social variety and, in the words of Commodore Perry, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” This is not fake news. This is a black eye being inflicted on our sport by a very small, but very visible moto-subculture.
You have likely seen the news reports of bands of thugs on unlicensed dirt bikes, ATVs and sport bikes terrorizing the streets of New York and, most recently, the freeways of California. The gangs do wheelies, burn outs and engage in highly dangerous stunts on busy streets and freeways. Traffic is often brought to a complete halt during the “performances.” When an unfortunate motorist draws the ire of the motorized gang, the retribution is quick and violent.
Clearly, when this anarchist behavior is filmed and shown in all of its sensationalistic glory on the evening news, our sport suffers indelible damage. The images of helmets used to break auto glass, motorists being dragged out of their vehicles and bikes being used as weapons are more than disturbing. They are a sad chronicle on the state of our society and the motorcycle is becoming a symbol of the degradation.
Sadly, law enforcement can do little to catch the perpetrators of the mayhem and violence. Helmeted pirates on unlicensed bikes are hard, if not impossible, to identify and track down. Catching the fleeing and fragmented gang is like trying to catch cockroaches before they disappear under floorboards.
Unfortunately, we responsible motorcyclists can seemingly do nothing to curb the behavior of the small but very visible dark side of our sport. We are helpless to stop the lawlessness. However, we can continue to counteract the negative perception the thugs are creating with their despicable actions with positive actions of our own. The scientific maxim “every action has an equal and opposite reaction” may be the best thing we can do. Safety, courtesy and respect for other motorists will not make the evening news, but it can help to change perceptions one driver at a time.